Frank Viola is starting a series of blog posts critiquing John MacArthur’s book Charismatic Chaos which has been revised as Strange Fire.
“In October 1994, I wrote a lengthy critique of John MacArthur’s controversial book Charismatic Chaos.
I was in my 20s at the time.
MacArthur’s Chaos contains his core arguments against the theology and practice of the charismatic community. That would include a polemic on why he believes the supernatural gifts of the Spirit have ceased from operating today.
(Note that I criticize much that passes off as “spiritual” within charismatic circles today in my book, Revise Us Again. So if you’re interested in those critiques, you can look at that volume.)
Over the next week, I’m going to post excerpts from my critique of Charismatic Chaos because MacArthur’s arguments in that volume are simply rehashed in his new book, Strange Fire, which is causing no small frenzy among Christians right now.
I will then make my entire critique available.
In this post, I’ve published the Preface to my critique of MacArthur’s book as it explains why I wrote the critique and why I think MacArthur’s main arguments are flawed.”
Jon Zens is an Anabaptist scholar. Zens has a B.A. in Biblical studies from Covenant College, a M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, and a D.Min. from the California Graduate School of Theology.
He is the editor of Searching Together magazine.
Zens’s books include the following:
What’s With Paul & Women: Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Timothy 2
The Pastor Has No Clothes: Moving from Clergy-Centered Church to Christ-Centered Ekklesia
No Will of My Own: How Patriarchy Smothers Female Dignity & Personhood
A Church Building Every 1/2 Mile: What Makes American Christianity Tick?
Christ Minimized? A Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins
Perhaps we live in an age in which the question we must deal with first is, “Is it possible to practice Christ and not be poor?” Our age of self-sufficiency works well for those for whom it works well–the great tautology. For those whom it does not work that is their problem; not mine, not yours, just their problem.
Our world is the product of the self-portrait, a world where “I” am the subject of “my own” universe in which all is objectified (one need only login to MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter to understand this–the new technologies have turned everyone into an artist, and he can think of nothing better to paint than his own technological image).
In this world “human laziness makes people pigeonhole one another at first sight so they find nothing in common,” said Dostoyevsky’s Idiot.
This refusal is a renarration of self-identity as self-preservation–the preservation of a false self. We know as we are known, and if I know “you” within a specified category, then “my” identity remains securely fixed within “my” own mental construction. Until the real work of getting to know “the other,” “I” remain enclosed in the virtual realm of “my” own making. Continue Reading…
In this most interesting book, Judged by the Gospel: A Review of Adventism, Robert Brinsmead calls Adventism to consider the gospel. This book reflects the author’s personal spiritual pilgrimage, and was “written to bring my own faith under further judgment of the gospel” (p.8).
I gather, therefore, that Judged by the Gospel is designed to lovingly challenge those in “traditional Adventism.” However, its appeal, I believe, extends beyond Adventism to all evangelicals: “the gospel is a clear and certain light which must call all that we teach and do into serious and radical question” (p.7).
In my remarks on this work, I will pursue matters in the order that they appear in the book, sometimes letting Mr. Brinsmead’s words speak for themselves.
What Lies Behind the “Central Article” of Protestantism?
Brinsmead (hereafter, RDB) states, “Luther declared that justification by faith is ‘the article on which the church stands or faIls’” (p.7). However, the significance of justification by faith can only be properly comprehended on the presupposition of a biblical anthropology. This is borne out in the order Paul follows in Romans. Before opening up justification by faith (3:2lff.), he first discloses the awful plight of mankind in sin (1:18-3:20). Thus, Luther’s remark above must be connected with the sentiments he expressed to Erasmus at the conclusion of his ‘The Bondage of the Will’:
‘Moreover, I give you hearty praise and commendation on this further account — that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with those extraneous issues about the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences and such like — trifles, rather than issues — in respect of which almost all to date have sought my blood (though without success); you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed at the vital spot’ (trans. by Packer and Johnston [Fleming Revell, 1957], p.319). Continue Reading…
2. When gathering with other believers, are the saints to be preached at or taught? Should Gospel preaching have a dominant place in our churches? Some have seen justification for “preaching” Gospel sermons in the church because of Paul’s statement to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:2, “teach and preach these principles.” However, the Greek word “preach” in this text means to exhort, entreat, or urge (cf. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977] p.482). Most translations have, therefore, rendered it this way (e.g., KJV, RSV, NIV, Amplified, Jewish NT).
It would also be difficult to see in 1 Timothy 5:17 any warrant for our practice of monologue Gospel “preaching” within the assembly. New Testament commentator, Homer A. Kent, Jr., writes: “The anarthrous form logoi (“preaching”) has reference to the general function of speech in connection with the elder’s ministry. The term didaskaliai (“teaching”) is more limited and denotes the particular aspect of teaching or instructing, as distinguished from exhorting, admonishing, comforting, and other forms of preaching” (The Pastoral Epistles [Chicago: Moody Press, 1982/Revised] p.175).
The words of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:2 (“preach the Word”), likewise, fail to support this notion of Gospel sermons in the church. Paul commands Timothy to herald or “preach” the Word and to be ready at all times to do so – whether it is convenient or not. The “Word” in this passage appears to be the proclamation of the Gospel which may or may not occur within the assembly. However, the fact that Paul later urges Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (v.5) suggests that his heralding was done primarily outside of the Christian gathering when coming into close contact with unbelievers. Continue Reading…
13. By centering our gatherings on one man and his “sermon” (which is what many evangelical churches do, even though they would never admit to it), we are, in practice, reversing the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:14 and suggesting that the body is not many members, but one (namely, the same man who preaches to us week after week). Moreover, by centering our church meetings one man’s ability to speak, we subtly begin to form a personality-cult around one man’s talents. Eventually, he becomes the final authority on spiritual and theological matters and we end up producing our own brand of “Protestant Pope’s.”
14. The focal-point of one man’s sermon tends to cause believers to feel incapable of handling the Word of God because the impression is given (however subtle it might be) that only the eloquent and seminary trained “professionals” can undertake such things as preaching and teaching. The entire aura of preaching a “sermon” is very intimidating and many career preachers are more concerned with how they communicate than with what is communicated. A bad morning for such pulpiteers is not a failure to teach the full-counsel of God, but a slip-up of the tongue or in mispronouncing a word!
15. Directly connected to the traditional sermon concept, is the practice of limiting corporate instruction to one gifted pastor (usually the “senior pastor”). But in contrast to our inherited traditions, the New Testament never limits public teaching to one pastor (regardless of how eloquent he may be) nor is it limited to those who serve as church overseers, but may include gifted teachers who may have no desire to serve in the eldership (Acts 13:1; Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:29; 14:26). Continue Reading…